Amish Beard-Cutting Trial Tests Hate Crime Limits

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on August 28, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The trial of 16 Amish men charged in beard-cutting attacks began Monday with jury selection in Ohio.

The men were arrested last fall after reports that they had forcibly cut the beards and hair of other men and women in the Amish community. The attacks were allegedly done because the victims challenged the religious authority of Sam Mullet, according to CBS News.

The attacks were done by Amish people and against Amish people. But the beard-cutting incident is being charged as a hate crime.

The law defines hate crimes as those which are motivated by religious, racial, or other prejudicial biases. Prosecutors argue that the attacks were religiously motivated.

While cutting a man's beard sounds more like a prank than a crime, for the Amish it's like calling someone less than a man, reports NPR.

The unusual thing in this case is that both the victims and the defendants are members of the same religious group. Generally the parties are from different groups when a hate crime is charged.

It's also surprising that this case was charged under federal law.

To violate a federal law, the crime must somehow either cross state lines or affect interstate commerce. The victims and defendants are both from Ohio which is where the crime took place.

So the prosecutors looked for anything to tie the case to interstate commerce. What they found were the scissors allegedly used in the beard cutting.

Those scissors moved from New York to Ohio, reports NPR. That's enough to make this a federal crime.

The process of selecting a jury is an important part of the trial. Both the prosecution and defense have the opportunity to hear from potential jurors. Attorneys may dismiss any jurors that are prejudiced against one side or the other.

The parties also have a limited number of peremptory challenges. In those cases the attorney can dismiss a potential juror without a legitimate reason.

Potential jurors in this case were asked if they had heard of the case, if they had opinions on the government's right to bring the case, and if they knew any parties involved.

Those things could disqualify jurors as biased.

Jury selection is expected to last two days and the trial will get underway shortly after. The defendants face 20 years in prison if convicted.

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